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Should I Make this Documentary?

– Posted in: Unfolding Documentary

Every idea and any project should be properly vetted before jumping in. This video reflects that evaluation process in a very preliminary and raw form. I’m at the wishy washy stage and wondering if should I make this documentary?

Last time that I undertook a big project I promised myself that I was going to be transparent. I wanted to share it with  new filmmakers or anybody thinking about making a documentary, so they could see some of what goes into making a film. 

So this is actually the first video of what I hope is going to be a number of them. 

What follows below is a cleaned up transcription of the above video.

This particular film is about a 1908 unsolved murder of a woman called Hazel Drew and inspiration for Twin Peaks’ character Laura Palmer.

 There was a post going around that was from the Daily Mail and it talked about this local murder of Hazel Drew and that Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost had disclosed that Laura Palmer was inspired by Hazel Drew. So there is a lot of buzz going on about this. 

My first reaction was like, “Wow, this could be really cool, but I’ve got so many things going on. Do I really want to get into a documentary project?” And quite frankly, I don’t. I do and I don’t.

I actually had a couple people approach me about it and asked if I was looking at this, or what do I think about it?” And then I started noticing some stuff around town here has been popping up about it. So I decided, You know, “I got to look at this a little bit closer. This thing happened in my backyard,” and I’ve been looking for the right film to make.

Daily Mail

Was I Interested in a 1908 Non-Fiction Project

I’m kind of more of a drama guy,  if I had my druthers a dramatic feature is what I’d like to do. But this thing … you know it’s here.

So, what I want to do is kind of share with you what I’m going through. Obviously there’s a little bit of angst going on of whether I’m going to do this project, but I do feel like because I’ve done a number of projects in the past, that I have kind of a formula that can at least help guide me somewhat in how to make this film, or if I’m going to make the film.

It’s Really got to Hit on a Few Cylinders.

It’s got to hit a few punctuation points, excite me on a couple levels before I’m willing to actually take the project on.

One of them is going to be,

  • can this film pay for itself?
  • Is there going to be an audience with it?

I mean it seems like right out of the gate of course there is, there’s the Twin Peaks audience. But everything doesn’t always turn out the way it seems like on the surface. 

Am I Ready to Undertake a Period Film?

I just got done with a meeting with Bob Moore, who is the Sand Lake Town historian. Bob was nice enough to put together a little packet for me, which was some newspaper clippings and then an overview of the murder, and a write-up that he did.

Now, the other thing that’s exciting is Bob told me that he’s getting calls from UK, from the Daily Mail and that people are calling him about wanting to come to Sand Lake and investigate this murder. So obviously … It’s creating a lot of buzz. So that part excites me.

The other part that I’m looking at is, one of the things that bothers me about it is that it’s a 1908 murder mystery.

Now … you learn when you’re filmmaking over the years is, don’t shoot if you want a fairly easy shoot, don’t shoot with dogs, kids or period pieces because they’re difficult and they’re expensive. They cost time and so I said, “Okay, here we are. Here’s a period piece. What am I going to shoot?” You know, at this point I know there’s a couple people that are looking into the murder from a detective point of view, but how far can I get on those interviews? So, I mean if you’re a filmmaker or if you are in my shoes you’re kind of looking at, okay what are the pros and the cons?

How Will I Find the Time

Now let me also say that I’ve got a few projects behind me. I do film consulting and I’m trying to put together a course. So I’m working full-time and trying to put this course together, so time is a commodity I don’t have a lot of, something’s got to give. That’s for sure.

But anyway, I don’t want to keep going on about the angst, but so what I’m going to do, I’ve decided that I am going to move forward. I’m going to move forward and I’m going to do some interviews over the next month or two depending on my work schedule, and I’m going to interview at least three of the people that are involved right now with actively investigating this. So I’m sending emails out and I’m trying to line people up for this interview. Of course, Bob Moore the town historian is going to be one of them and he’s already agreed to that.

So I feel a little more confident knowing that I’ve got Bob’s blessings on this project, I’ve also got a friend of mine who also knows a lot about this project, so I’m going to talk to him about it, and see if he’s willing to be in the project. Another guy’s writing a book about it, which also is very encouraging. If this guy’s writing a book I feel like there’s … He feels like there’s enough of an audience.

The Question Should I Make this Documentary Can be Answered in Stages

So I’m going to take it to that next stage. I’m going to get the interviews done. I’m going to make sure I keep the budget reasonable … I’ve got to hire some help to help me out doing these interviews the way I want to do them, and I’m going to make sure that I keep, these next couple of months, the budget low and then reevaluate at that point to see, all right what kind of film do I think I can make?

  • Is it going to be 90 minutes?
  • Is it going to be a short feature?
  • Or short film, or yeah even a short film?

What am I going to make? How deep am I going to get into it? Do I think I can raise some money? I don’t want to go on for too long on this, but I do want you to know that it’s a common thing I think and from the people I talked to, to have angst about beginning a project and to want to make sure that you have done your homework, that I’ve done my homework to make sure that I’m setting myself up for success, you know? Can I make sure that any of the pitfalls that I know about that are involved with filmmaking, that I can eliminate those?

What I Can do to Set Myself Up for Success?

Are there other things that I can do to set myself up for success? I know that there are those things that I can do. I’m going to share some of those as I go through them because I’m going to do this the way that I think is the best way to set myself up for success, and you know, we’re going to keep sharing it and let you know how it goes.

I make films for a living. I make films and videos for a living, so in the past I’ve done passion projects that I didn’t necessarily need them to make money, but now especially if I’m getting involved in a feature-length piece, which could take months of my time, other people’s time, I’ve got to hire people, then the film’s got to make some money. It’s got to at least pay for itself and it’s got to pay for my time so that I can pay my living expenses while I’m doing it.

Pre-production Evaluation Process

So that’s all a part of what I’m going to be working through in this process, pre-production process, and the evaluation process. That’s probably a good way to say it. This is an evaluation process for making a film, making in this case a documentary about a 1908 murder mystery, and the process is something that I think is very valuable. It’s essential for me and as I evaluate it I’m going to share that with you and let you know if I think that there’s enough value in this process, and do I have enough time? Do I have the financing? And do I believe that there is enough of a story that I can get excited about it in order to put in the time and the effort it’s going to take to do a good project?

So that’s what we’re up against. That’s what I’m up against anyway, it’s what you’ll be up against if you make a film.

I’ll be checking back. Okay. Thanks

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I hope that by sharing my journey, yours will be less lonely and more fruitful!

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